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Just how terrible is the Kobe extension for the Lakers?

Everyone knows that the Boston Red Sox went 86 years without winning a title. What a lot of people don't know is that the Red Sox brought a lot of that futility upon themselves. You see, the Boston Red Sox were the last major league team to integrate. Because of many reasons that I will not get into here (but mostly because of their less-than-sterling owner Tom Yawkey [Editor's note: don't you mean Sterling owner?]), the Red Sox refused to consider bringing in African American players. This self imposed competitive disadvantage crippled the Red Sox organization for the better part of the two decades following World War II and is one of the key reasons that the Red Sox did not win a banner again until the the 21st Century.

Why do I bring this up? You might not have heard, but the Lakers just signed Kobe Bryant to a massive $48.5 million dollar extension for the next two seasons. As of today, this will make him the league's highest paid player for those two seasons.

Twitter exploded when this happened. Here's a selection:

Seems like a pretty negative reaction, no? Then came the Zach Lowe piece. To summarize, everyone in the know thinks this is a terrible, franchise-crippling signing which the Lakers made for no apparent gain or reason. They certainly had no reason to extend Kobe before he shows that he has recovered from an injury that has ended multiple NBA careers. Let's deal with some facts:

  • The Mileage factor: Kobe Bryant is 35 years old and has played in 1459 NBA games. That is one year older -- and 350 more games -- than Michael Jordan after his second retirement with the Bulls. Oh, and the track record for comebacks from Achilles tears? Not good (here's a link to the excellent Deadspin piece on the subject)
  • The Kobe's earned it argument: The Lakers have paid Kobe Bryant a grand total of just about $280 million dollars through this season and, with this deal, have comitted to pay him a total of $328.5 million by the end of the 2015-16 season. Over his 18 seasons with the Lakers, Kobe has produced a grand total of 138 wins. At the going rate of $1.7 million per win for this season (which is paying him airport vending store rates, but bear with me), Kobe's earned about $235 million over his career. Even if we are extremely optimistic about the quality of German experimental medical care and assume that he produces an average number of wins for half this season and the next two (8.11 * 2.5 = 20.3 wins x $1.7 million/win = $34.5 million), that would put him at about $270 million worth of wins -- $10 million below what he's already been paid. So the Lakers do not actually owe him any lifetime achievement money.
  • The Kobe's worth it argument: Umm, that's a big no. Let's talk about reality. Kobe's averaged 7.5 wins for the Lakers over the last five years. That would put his value at $12.75 per year and $35.5 million for two years. And that's assuming that he comes back 100% (unlikely) and that he sees zero dropoff due to age (really not likely). A more realistic scenario has him at around 10 wins and a value of about 17 million for those two years. Basically, the Lakers overpaid Kobe by a max contract. Good job!
  • The Kobe's going to put this team over the top argument: A Mike D'Antoni team loses their high usage superstar and proceeds to play a high paced, high scoring, aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball while improbably winning a bunch of games and delighting their fan base. We've seen this movie before, haven't we? Much like Linsanity, the Swagtime Lakers are playing perfect D'Antoni ball, and also like Linsanity, I don't believe it'll survive the return of the high usage star. Much like Melo, Kobe doesn't quite fit with this style of basketball. Add in the facts that his mobility will be hampered and that this is by far the fastest-paced team he'll have ever played with? I have a sneaking suspicion the end game for this season will be very much like the end of Linsanity for New York.
  • The Kobe took a paycut so we can win a title argument: Nope. The deal absolutely kills the Lakers pipe dream of recreating the Heatles around Bryant this summer. The most cap space they could have is about $22 million, and that's if they keep Nash, renounce Gasol, pick late in the draft, and sign no new players. In that scenario, where does that leave Jordan Hill? Gone. Steve Blake? Goodbye. The chance of LeBron signing with the Lakers just went into imaginary numbers. The Lakers might get Melo if he's willing to take a paycut, but the NBA would have to pass a special dispensation allowing the Lakers to use two balls at a time in every game.        
  • The we have to pay Kobe or he might leave argument: See, I would do what Danny Ainge very wisely did with Paul Pierce: buy him a parting gift and wish him good luck on his way out (and maybe bilk some unsuspecting team of multiple lottery picks). But let's assume I feel like the Lakers do that it's imperative to keep Kobe to preserve the Lakers' brand (which, after 16 NBA titles, is utterly ridiculous, but follow me down the Jimmy Buss rabbit hole). Who am I bidding against exactly? The usual suspects -- the Knicks, Nets, and Clippers -- have no cap space. I can pay Kobe more than anyone else in the NBA and there is no team with cap space that is willing to pay him a ridiculous amount. Let him come back, show he can still play, and then we can negotiate at the end of the year.

It's very hard not to view this as a reflection of the change in how the Lakers are run. For the longest time, the Lakers were the model franchise and Dr. Jerry Buss had the aura of being the smartest man in the room. His Lakers always got it done. They always got their man.

First we had the CP3 non-trade, then we had the Dwightmare, and now we have the Kobecide. The Lakers are not that team anymore.

I leave you with three final tweets to think about:

The Lakers have somehow become the Knicks.